City minister Greg Clark’s insistence that the debate over an elected mayor is not over is likely to spark some controversy.
Opponents of a mayor may feel that the Government should admit defeat gracefully and simply give up on the idea.
That appears to be the view of Roger Godsiff, the MP who helped lead the campaign against a mayor in Birmingham, as we report.
But supporters of a mayor are convinced there is something lacking in the current arrangements for governing the city.
For a long time, ministers have argued that England’s biggest cities outside London are not as successful as they could be, and not as successful as their equivalents in other parts of the world.
Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt are forces in their own right, for example. Germany does not rely solely on its capital, Berlin, to lead the way.
England could become less London-centric if other cities had strong, high-profile leaders, so the argument goes. This doesn’t just apply to Birmingham, but ministers always hoped Birmingham would leap at the chance of changing its system of local governance.
City voters had an opportunity to consider the arguments and delivered their verdict. It was a resounding “no” to the idea of a mayor.
There are criticisms that could be made of the referendum. Ministers wanted mayors to negotiate their powers with Whitehall, which is laudable in theory, as it involved listening to locally-elected leaders rather than imposing arrangements on them, but a disaster in practice.
It meant that nobody knew what powers a mayor would have when they were voting in the referendum. To put it another way, they didn’t know – through no fault of their own – exactly what they were being asked to vote for.
There was also the lack of any wholehearted campaigning by the national political parties or the Government.
David Cameron held a high-profile event in Downing Street, but why did neither he nor Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles come to Birmingham to bang the drum for a mayor?
Labour leader Ed Miliband might also have spoken out in favour of a mayor, as he appears to support the idea, and certainly offered enthusiastic encouragement to Labour MP Liam Byrne’s mayoral hopes.
Whatever the reasons, the referendum came out against a mayor. If Ministers still hope to pursue the idea, their best bet now is to hope that Liverpool, Bristol and Leicester do indeed demonstrate that mayors are a good thing, as Mr Clark hopes.
But they will also need to get fully behind change, particularly if they hope to re-ignite calls for “metro mayors” which cross local authority boundaries.
Mr Clark and colleagues have to be ready to throw the kitchen sink at proposals for change if they want reforms to happen. If they can’t do that, it may be best simply to admit defeat.